Barely four days after the inauguration and opening of the Bohol Panglao International Airport, the Department of Tourism (DOT) closed Alona Beach with a “no swimming” order.
DOT Secretary Bernadette Romulo Puyat issued the order after the Inter-Agency Task Force on island destinations found the level of contamination unacceptable due to the presence of fecal coliform or waste from animals and humans in the coastal waters of Alona Beach in Barangay Tawala, Panglao.
According to a Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) report for the month of October, the total fecal coliform count in Alona Beach was recorded at 16,000 MPN (most probable number) per 100 ml (milliliters) breaching the standard acceptable level of 100 MPN per 100 ml.
The DENR conducted a monthly ambient water quality monitoring on two beach areas in Barangays Tawala, Panglao and Buena Suerte, El Nido in Palawan.
“We are not closing El Nido and Panglao, however, there should be no swimming in some beaches in El Nido and Panglao,” according to Puyat as she was quoted by the Business Mirror.
“If they are too stubborn, the national government might be forced to implement a total closure,” warned Puyat, according to an ABS-CBN news report.
High fecal coliform levels in seawaters are considered a health risk to the local populace and tourists swimming in these waters.
Paterna Ruiz, Municipal Tourism Officer told the Chronicle that no written order from the DOT or the DENR has been received by the LGU on the implementation of the “no swimming” order.
Uco Trotin, President of the Alona Beach Community Association Inc. (ABCAI) and Angelina Hoffman, newly elected president of the Panglao Island Chamber of Commerce (PICC) is set to meet with Environment Management Bureau (EMB) Regional Director William Cunado for clarification on the fecal coliform report.
During a closed-door meeting held at South Palm Resort hours before the arrival of President Rodrigo Duterte, an unsigned Executive Order for the closure of Panglao similar to that of Boracay was reportedly shown by Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo.
The meeting was attended by Puyat, DENR Secretary Roy Cimatu, Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Eduardo Ano, Socio-Economic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia, Governor Edgar Chatto and Panglao Mayor Leonila Montero.
The cabinet secretaries were apparently miffed by the statements of Montero washing her hands over the inability of the LGU to implement Cimatu’s order to demolish the illegal structures in Alona Beach.
Montero claimed that she was just reinstated as mayor after the Court of Appeals reversed her dismissal by the Ombudsman but Puyat reportedly shot back asking her what she has done after her reinstatement.
According to the Business Mirror report, Puyat was exasperated by the seeming negligence of reinstated Panglao Mayor Leonila Montero over the implementation of the 20-meter easement law and an additional 10 meters easement ordinance.
Puyat, according to the Business Mirror report was dismayed over Montero’s inability to “just follow the law,” and wondered “why they create these ordinances if they won’t implement them anyway.”
Montero also signed on August 27, 2014, Executive Order No. 9, Series of 2014, entitled “Enforcing the Salvage Zone and Easement along the Shorelines of this Municipality and creating the Salvage Zone Enforcement Team for the Purpose”.
Montero owns Alona Tropical Resort in Alona Beach which was tagged by Cimatu as one of the easement violators during the ocular inspection conducted on March 20, 2018, together with Pernia.
Two months after the closure of Boracay, the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) filed criminal and administrative complaints against the Malay Governor, Mayor, Vice Mayor, Sangguniang Bayan members, barangay officials and several municipal officials for alleged “neglect of the island.”
The demolition of illegal structures was again granted a reprieve after Cimatu gave a final ultimatum to Montero to act on his orders even as Puyat agreed to meet with the stakeholders to listen to their rehabilitation proposal.
During the short tenure of Vice Mayor Pedro Fuertes as mayor when Montero was dismissed, not a single establishment in Alona Beach was demolished despite the assistance of the Provincial Government of Bohol to provide heavy equipment for the use of the LGU.
Although several illegal structures outside Alona Beach were voluntarily demolished by its owners, these were few compared to the resorts that have mushroomed in the kilometer-long beach named after 60’s popular artist Alona Alegre.
A demolition order was put on hold by Fuertes for two weeks pending the resolution of Presidential Assistant for the Visayas Michael Dino of a rehabilitation proposal to mitigate sand erosion offered by affected beach owners before demolition of their structures.
DENR Memorandum Circular No. 2017-13 has classified Panglao coastal waters Class SB intended for bathing, swimming, skin diving and other recreational activities and ecotourism and is suitable for commercial propagation of shellfish and intended for spawning of “bangus” (milkfish) and similar species.
As early as 2014, Panglao waters experienced being tagged as “closely monitored” because it was considered among the “dirtiest” in the region.
A Chronicle report on January 7, 2018, showed total fecal coliform reaching 305.70 MPN per 100 ml. in the first quarter of 2017 compared to 185.33 in 2016 monitored in the same period.
The Chronicle report over the alarming pollution increase in the seawaters in Panglao generated much public concern causing jitters among Panglao businessmen in the tourism sector that spurred the PICC, then headed by Rommel Gonzales to call for a special meeting with the EMB to validate the Chronicle article.
During that PICC meeting, Albert Uy, President of the Bohol Chamber of Commerce deplored the lack of “political will” on the part of the Local Government Unit (LGU) of Panglao to implement and enforce existing environmental laws that is the main factor in the present state of confusion confronting the tourism business in the municipality.
The EMB has established ten monitoring stations along the waters of the LGU of Panglao as a reference point for the ambient or surrounding water quality monitoring activities of their field sampling teams.
The DENR conducted monthly ambient water quality monitoring on two beach areas in Barangays Tawala, Panglao and Buena Suerte, El Nido in Palawan.
An EMB official, on condition of anonymity, told the Chronicle that the use of a Ground Penetrating Radar that would image the subsurface of Alona will put an end to those resorts who have buried underground pipes that spill their wastes into the seawaters. (Chito M. Visarra)